“It’s open season on cyclists.” –Bike courier, friend of Darcy Allan Sheppard
No, it isn’t. It’s not open season on cyclists, as cyclists would have you believe. But if you’re going to be an angry, scary cyclist looking for confrontations, then you have to be prepared for the fatal consequences.
In this case of high-profile lawyer/former attorney general/former politician Michael Bryant vs. bike courier Darcy Sheppard who was killed in a confrontation on the streets of Toronto, I have to admit that in the first 24 hours of hearing about this case, I was thinking just like the bike courier above. As in, “Uh-oh, I hope we won’t get the message that cyclists will always lose out against important, car-driving VIPs.” But yesterday, as I read the full report on why all charges were withdrawn against Bryant, I admitted that my initial judgement of the case was all wrong. I would have done exactly the same thing, if I were in the shoes of both the prosecutor and Bryant.
Now, it makes not a whit of difference what I, with no expertise on the justice system, would think as a prosecutor. But I’ve found out something about justice, and it has scared me: It’s that the observations, speculations, and judgments of on-the-scene witnesses can be not only inaccurate, but also dangerously close to convincing a potential jury member, even before a case goes to trial. The accounts of certain witnesses from that night stated that Bryant was driving “deliberately” to try to shake off and injure Sheppard, and that Bryant’s car was speeding, and climbed the curb in a purposeful attempt to slam the cyclist’s body against something (possibly a post box). And I have to admit, ashamedly, that sitting at home and listening to the interviews with the shaken witnesses, I had already made up my mind that Bryant was one arrogant, cold-hearted motorist hell-bent on killing this defenceless cyclist. Without crime scene investigators who were able to determine that the car never went more than 34 km/h, and certainly never climbed the curb, can you imagine how Bryant’s verdict could have been already determined, based on witnesses’ testimonies? Frightening, because you or I could very well have been Bryant.
Indeed, anyone could very well have been Bryant that night. Now that I understand the whole story of what happened that night, and how scared and defenceless Bryant felt when confronted with this angry young man who was under the influence of alcohol, I know that I would have done exactly the same thing: driven off quickly in defense of my and my spouse’s life. That Sheppard chose to hang on to the car and died in a tragic fall, was something that Bryant, or anyone else in his position, could not have deliberately wished for.
My husband, on the very night of hearing about that incident, was far more astute than I was. He said, “I know that there will be a spin on this, and people will think that he’s going to get off because of good PR, but I support him. As a husband and father, I would have done exactly the same thing to save my life. And I would hope that you, as a wife and mother, would too.” The funny thing is, I have been exactly in that situation, faced with a screaming road-raged motorist, and feeling scared for my life. Yet, I wasn’t sympathetic enough with Bryant, in the beginning, to understand that he was perfectly justified in doing what he did. Now, I am.
It’s unfortunate that he was such a high-profile person to be caught up in all of this, and that there will always be whispers of doubt in people’s minds about whether he “got off easily”. But in my mind, I’m glad that he did what he did, glad that justice has indeed been served, and glad that he has made things more acceptable for any of us who may be caught in the future in a similar situation.